Monthly Archives: September 2012

Raw Notes from Nicosia, Cyprus

Subjective data collection is different in draft form from what is ultimately presented as a finalized product. Just last evening, while sitting on my futon in the living room (at the time, Iron Man 2 was for some reason streaming through on the AppleTV), I began flipping through the notes I had jotted down while in Nicosia, Cyprus, on May 18, 2012. When these notes were scribbled down, little thought was given to how they would be viewed in the near future. But last night there the notes were, igniting in my memory thoughts that had otherwise gone dormant, and also the process by which these immediate thoughts are set down, and what they look like in rough form. Here is a page of notes, scribbled down with pen while sitting at a KEO beer tent, taking in some regular sounds of the city.

Raw notes taken down at a KEO beer tent in Nicosia, Cyprus (eastern Mediterranean) on May 18, 2012.

The above reads:

The streets are modernized yet directionally pre-Industrial, a reflection of the irregular past, when humanity tended to organize themselves in accordance with the natural surroundings… Beyond the Venetian wall, a vestige of Byzantium, are commercial skyscrapers, clean lines and sky cranes. Between this and the wall is a moat, a previous way in which human inhabitants attempted to impose some kind of order against the chaos inherent to the natural world. Commercial signage, Nike (Greek god!), Coke, and so on, also reflect the appropriation, hyphenation and hybridization of the past with the present, the latter always reaching back into the infinite of history to grab the necessary justifications to live out life…

Sometimes it’s important to not try and slam the day full with one consecutive tourist attraction after another. Knowing what a place is like often requires us to find a corner cafe or some sidewalk seating, sit down, not worry about a time-table or schedule, and simply observe what is going on around us for a good hour or so. Or more. I often have to remind myself of that.

SAT Scores 2012 and Social Media

On September 24, 2012, about the 15:30 CST hour (that’s 3:30PM), I posted the following consideration to my social media/facebook page, with the following NPR story link:

Do you think the reason SAT reading scores are crap is because incessant and spastic social media updates have — and without anyone really noticing it — replaced taking the time to detach from said social media for hours on end and read solid literature at length? Yes, I’m posting this question on social media. Thoughts? Here’s the NPR link.

Social media and personal friends were kind enough to offer thoughtful responses. The first came in from Robert K. Kurtz, Marine Corps veteran of the First Gulf War. Unless he is talking about earth homes and the history of earth homes, Kurtz is often brief and to the point.

yes…… nuff said.

The second response came in from Bill Caraher, who is a colleague, friend, mentor, tangent-reciprocator (and I mean that in a good way), and associate professor of history at the University of North Dakota. Caraher said:

Yeah, we forget that for most of human history people didn’t read and when they did, they read in short blasts excerpting seemingly relevant passages from densely nuanced (and largely ignored) texts.

We’ve romanced the idea of solitary, sustained, silent reading and tried to somehow normalize it. As someone who does a good bit of it, I think this is just silly. And the historical precedents for this behavior are temporally pretty shallow.

Social media engages people in their communities, in the world of texts (albeit short ones), and in the life of the mind, and the sooner people get over their turn of the (20th century) notions of intellectualism (and elitism) the better.


Caraher raises a good point, at least hinting at the idea of literacy today and literacy in the pre-Industrial world. At no point in human history has the planet been so populated, and at no point have we lived so long (which, in the evolutionary-biological sense is why we get cancer, since the cells in our body have yet to figure out a way to live this long).

A smattering of dialectically opposed works. Hammers and anvils are necessary components to the grand march of ideas throughout history.

As well, at no point have we been so largely able to access information through the technology that is literacy. You get hints of it in the pre-Industrial world, but not to the standardized and wide-spread degree of today. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should all be sitting down and reading Gargantua and Pantagruel from the 16th century, or from the 19th century War and Peace (the latter of which was published in pamphlet and serial form when first produced in the 1860s, rather than in one big, protracted, burst; this was Tolstoy’s ode to his Greatest Generation, the veterans and fallen of the Napoleonic Wars from 1805-1815. Every generation harkens back to the previous generation, often nostalgically, definitively to memorialize and never forget.). If everyone would sit down and read W&P, the planet would — ahem — literally — ahem — come to a halt (much in the same way that the planet would come to a halt if we all sat down and incessantly updated our social media statuses — or is the plural statusi?).

Anyhow, the third response came from another friend and practicing lawyer, John Ward:

I blame disco and the sh#t music that is currently popular.

Ward is indeed not a fan of disco, nor pop music. In many ways, Ward is pushing back against a historical precedent (the now) that has created a sub-cultural movement of accepting everything and anything on equal footing. This point comes up in n+1’s P.S.1 Symposium: A Practical Avant-Garde (2006), one of the speakers noting that we are right here and now in an age of research (thus, while we are all researching, we are all individualistically compartmentalized, or something like that). But Ward is saying no, at least to disco and music that is currently popular. I have punk rock Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros playing “Coma Girl” right now as I type, and I’m uncertain if this is what is being played right now on any major (and corporate-owned) radio station. But it’s likely being played on thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) home computers and iPods. And if we didn’t have disco, we wouldn’t have had the punk reaction. So in a side-stepping way, I’m thanking disco, while perpetually refusing to listen to it. Ever.

The fourth response came in from another colleague, friend, mentor, tangent-reciprocator (and I mean that in a good way), and former associate professor of history at St. Cloud State University, Richard Rothaus. Rothaus now pushes global cultural resource discovery, interpretation and management in new directions. Rothaus said:

What was HS [High School] in 1972 now extends into [the] first two years of college. The proliferation of colleges desperate for enrollment provides a system where the lack of standards has no real consequences. Junior can’t read, but he will get admitted somewhere. When he doesn’t complete the degree, that will be the college’s fault, not his HS. The private sector had already calibrated for this. You need a college degree to do work that used to take a high school degree. This exacerbates this problem because everyone thus thinks they have to go to and will succeed in college.

This is another solid point, and something I try to convey to university freshmen and sophomores, this analogy relayed to me through Nick Steffens (who currently resides in SLC, Utah): treat college the same way that you would treat a gym membership. You can purchase the membership, but if you don’t show up and lift weights, swim laps, engage in yoga, or slam it out on that tread mill, then you will see absolutely no benefits in the money you’re forking over for access to the gym. The same goes for university, which is merely trying to cultivate and codify intellect (codified intellect is what we call a “degree,” and degrees require discipline, both in the gym and in academy).

Charles Bauer-Gitter, bibliophile, friend and engaged conversationalist, pushed forward a bit of humility (which we also need, lest we slip into the un-human realm), saying,

For fear of showing my own ineptitude, I’m just going to agree with what Bill and Richard stated above.

Charles leaves us wondering about his thoughts on disco and pop music, but I think he’d be fine with us presuming that he is not all that cool with disco.

Kenneth L. Smith (whom I only know through Social Media — at least I don’t think Kenneth and I have ever met in person) provided literary polemic, at least by way of Mark Bauerlein. Kenneth said,

Mark Bauerlein has done a good job exploring this topic. Incidentally his book title is more inflammatory than his actual thesis. [Kenneth provided a link to Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (2009).

Polemics are often important to generating conversation. And note how the 2009 Bauerlein title falls into thematic continuity with Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987), or even Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 work, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Thinking about this historically, by 1964 the first of the Baby Boomers were entering college and university, and by 1987 the offspring of those Baby Boomers were also entering college and university. I have nothing more to add here. Analysis and interpretation is open.

Rothaus provided the final remark (at least up to this point in my blogging), saying:

Among the learning-to-crowd, the ability to navigate computer games is a huge incentive to learn to read. They almost all can spell MINECRAFT. [caps are Rothaus]

Yes, it is frustrating when you ask someone if they want to read a book with you, and they agree, and then they don’t read the book because they were level-upping the entire time in a role-playing-game. You ask them, “Hey, what did you think about McNeill and McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History (2003)?” The true gamer will side-step this question, and delve into some kind of talk about how he has a bird’s-eye view of history through role-playing-games, leveling up with Mario jumps and so on. Blank stares often follow. Then the two depart and return to their respective research projects.

Humanizing Man Camps: Type III in the Bakken

The Grand Forks Herald ran a nice story here on the August 2012 field work of Man Camps, this spearheaded by U of North Dakota’s Bret Weber and Bill Caraher. To further humanize Type III Man Camps in western North Dakota, the following is an elaboration on this photo here:

The name of the lady in the purple shirt is Karina Woodford, and she came to North Dakota from Napa, Idaho. In her words, before she made it to the Bakken, Karina said she was “Wasting away… I was homeless for the last couple years,” this largely reflective of the tough economic times in non-North Dakota. Her brother

Photo by John Holmgren.

purchased her a bus ticket, and she arrived in Dickinson in August 2011.

Karina expressed gratitude toward what you might call North Dakota Nice: “These complete strangers in a totally different state saw strong potential in me,” and they have given her work. She eventually made her way up to the Type III camp just south of Tioga, which is where the interview took place. When I interviewed Karina, she had returned from a shower to this Type III camp. She said they often go for days if not weeks before they can find the time to locate and access a shower, and this is something Bret Weber addressed in the Grand Forks Herald article linked above, and something the private sector has started to address here (there may be room for quite a few more of these shower outfits).

Prior to moving here, she said “I was sleeping in a garage.” With the winter approaching, Karina said she and others hope to get into something more substantial than the trailers and tents they are currently living in. Workers in Type III camps often wear a variety of professional hats, and as Karina said, “We don’t worry about tomorrow until tomorrow gets here.”

The Archaeology of Fargo’s Hotel Bison

In preparation for the transition from summer to winter (which, on the northern Great Plains, is often preceded by at least two solid weeks of autumn), it is necessary to pull all a/c units from the windows and take them to hibernate, usually in basement storage rooms. While doing that this evening, I decided to photograph the hand-painted signage next to my storage space, a grand piece of commercial radio artwork that reflects some of the

Early and undated Bison Building signage, when KVOX 1280AM occupied the building.

earlier years of Hotel Bison, or the Bison Building, this located about the 400 block on Broadway Avenue in downtown Fargo. The angle the art portrays is of the northwest corner, and the Art Deco facade affixed to this commercial brick building reflects what had to be one of the earliest phases of modernization to the original Bison Hotel. In the painting, the facade and marquee notified passersby of the good food and coffee within. That marquee, at least in 2012, has long since been removed, as have any large or small KVOX radio towers on its roof. A quick search and cursory sampling this evening of the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies (Fargo) database for “Bernie Ostrum” did not yield any specific results (just a broad barrage of digitized daily papers from North Dakota Agricultural College’s The Spectrum, among other items). You’ll note the radio persons on the painting as well, “Rod” the Disc Clerk, Manny Marget, Bernie Ostrum and Loehle Gast (quite likely radio namesakes).

Then and today, the Hotel Bison is situated immediate to the railroad passenger train in Fargo (this just across the parking lot to the north), and a person can imagine how many Fargo arrivals and outgoing passengers utilized the hotel. For a variety of reasons, the historic private and public economic and city forces of Fargo decided to continuously re-adapt and re-use Hotel Bison, so as of today it stands as one of the recognizable building-marks in the downtown area. In many ways this sign can be thought of in the same way as a cross-section of stratigraphy is in an archaeological test unit. The signage preserves particular perceptions in space and time, and so long as it is around (either in material or digitized form), we can glean information from it. I’ve been meaning to digitize that signage for a while, and it’s fascinating to capture how this building was used — and perceived — at a particular place and time in history. Finally got around to doing it in preparation for winter.

Socrates Was a Hipster. We Think. We’re Pretty Sure. Sort of.

Thanks to fellow-blogger Bill Caraher and his Punk Archaeology blogspot (in collaboration with Kostis the Greek), a couple weeks ago I came within the gravitational pull of the 2010 publication, What Was the Hipster?: A Sociological Investigation (New York: n+1 Foundation Publishing). While sitting in a coffee shop on the NDSU campus in Fargo this morning, I pushed through the conversational elaboration about what was the hipster, what is hipsterism, and what the future might be for the kingdom of hipsterdom. This all came from a 2010 round table discussion between folks who have thought good and hard about hipsterism today and yesterday.

Anyhow, this following scene of protracted discomfort played out during the round table:

…There were some uncomfortable moments: the one guy sporting a trucker hat stared straight ahead as Mr. Grief talked about how guys in trucker hats were striving for some sort of faux-authenticity. And when Mr. Grief hit upon the prevalence of pornographic and pedophilic mustaches among hipsters, one heavily mustachioed man seemed to listen more intently, while his thinly ‘stached friend mustered an awkward laugh.

That does sound tense, and there is much within that ought to be unpacked in future conversations. After reading this book (and it ought to be read in its entirety, since several working theses are developed that eventually are used to implode themselves), I tended to my graduate teaching assistant duties and sat in on a

Reading “What Was The Hipster?: A Sociological Investigation” (2010) while sipping a hipster Pabst Blue Ribbon beer at a fairly hipster tavern in Fargo, North Dakota.

Western Civilization course, the topic today taking freshmen and sophomores into the 7-5th BCE Levantine world of Assyrian, Chaldean and Israeli empires and/or kingdoms.

During the lecture and while scribbling down notes, I wondered whether or not Socrates was the original hipster, at least before it became un-hip to be called a hipster (it’s now hipster to claim that you are not a hipster). One of the main complaints that hipster haters have toward hipsters, at least in the book, is that the original hipster shirked style because they were devoting their energy to reading and thinking and conversation. Eventually, though, hipsterism was appropriated, commercialized, and mainstreamed, which is why factories in southeast Asia crank out skinny jeans and middle-men inflate the prices and sell them to young, white Americans born into wealth (it was not their fault). Another complaint, though, was that hipster haters said more about themselves in hating on hipsters than they did about the actual hipster. It’s unhealthy to hate. Find something more productive to do with that time — perhaps by finding out how to market hipsterdom to up-and-coming hipsters.

Why I continued wondering about how Socrates may have been a hipster came by way of how he was always on the cusp of asking the next question. He wasn’t all too interested in the most suave tunic (why would he be, since time is better spent philosophizing). There most certainly were those that made the aesthetic equation that if Socrates looked drab and was a high-powered intellect, then one could simply purchase drab and thus be some kind of high-powered intellect (where people would follow you around and write down what you said). A fallacy to be sure. If this is so, then does that mean Hellenism was a variation of mass-produced hipsterism? After all, to be hellenic meant to be, or want to be, Greek. And once again we return to the fallacy of authenticity, or even purity, two dangerous words that are tossed about quite a bit. Is there such a thing as an authentic hipster? Who knows. The conversations are important, but try to embrace the irony and absurdity of it all, a far more constructive outlet than the hipster haters seem to be carrying on with.

Ideas and Oil: Redux and Remix

Some months ago, I laid out a three tiered plan for North Dakota’s Future here. That plan is fairly simple: 1) build refineries in North Dakota or on the northern Great Plains capable of refining everything pulled out of the famous Bakken and anything that comes down from Canada (some of those refineries are being built; more are needed) so North Dakota receives dollars instead of nickels for the inevitable destruction that comes with petroleum extraction; 2) North Dakota’s public and private leadership works with Minnesota’s public and private leadership to figure out a way to pipeline the refined stuff to world markets through the deep-water port of Duluth, Minnesota 3) with those dollars, North Dakota can build a multi-billion dollar research library, and one of the R&D mission statements of this library would be to foster the future development of green sources of energy.

Oil derricks in northwestern North Dakota, August 2012.

Instead, today you’ll notice this story that again calls for the construction of a huge pipeline through our North Dakota living rooms (it’s not in our backyards — it’s running right between our coffee tables and bookshelves). If you go with — ahem — my plan, it’s unnecessary to even have to build more pipelines (several already exist) north-south across central Great Plains aquifers. We’ll build refineries here instead, and pipeline the stuff out through the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway.

A substructure of industry is required to support the superstructure of culture, including huge multi-billion dollar research libraries. If you build it, they will come. Build the refineries. Then build the huge research libraries in North Dakota. This instead of more plans from our private and public leadership that call for pumping our northern Great Plains non-renewable resource down to the oil barons of the southern Plains. A TransCanada pipeline is a money tube that runs from our northern Plains pockets down to the pockets of already wealthy oil barons in Texas and Oklahoma. Those nice folks already have their Gulf of Mexico oil fields. Why do they need to suck on ours? Let’s keep it here.

Two Lines in Every Coffee House

Memo: Two coffee lines in every coffee house. The first line is for straight-up, black coffee drinkers — no room for cream, just black coffee, that’s my crew. The second is for non-coffee drinkers — for the syrup-ladened, whip-topped, sugar-fixed drinkers, the baristas having to execute at least 12 wrist-twists and several Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu chops, impossible to execute in less than four minutes and 37 seconds for even the most skilled baristas in the history of humanity. Without two lines, the coffee drinkers and baristas are punished, since baristas know there are traditional coffee drinkers buried somewhere in that line. You can cut the tension with a knife.

Two lines would make America more efficient, and we would be that much more ahead of North Korea’s military industrial complex. Until this happens, totalitarianism gains a little on our Democratic-Republic, and coffee drinkers are forced to suffer the fourth position in line, un-caffeinated (muttering to themselves with forced smiles, “the horror… the horror…”), waiting at least 18 minutes for the non-coffee drinker orders to be filled. This is not the fault of the baristas. It’s just a matter of managers making appropriate adjustments, and creating two coffee lines. Send this memo up to the top coffee brass. That’s all. Carry on.